The majesty and splendour of Kandy
Kandy - The Hill Capital of Sri Lanka nestling among the misty hills in the central region of this paradise island is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It was here once the Sinhala kings ruled majestically. Next to Colombo, it is also the most visited city in Sri Lanka . As the shrine holding the sacred tooth relic of the lord Buddha is placed in the heart of the city, it's also the most venerated city in Sri Lanka. Because of the history, pageantry and veneration associated with this exquisite city, Kandy is classed as a World Heritage City by UNESCO.
Kandy is a reflection of the variety, harmony and diversity of the people and cultures that make Sri Lanka a great nation. It was once the capital of the Kandyan kingdom, the last bastion of resistance to the colonial domination of the nation. This royal city fell to the British in 1815 sealing the fate of Sri Lanka's long cherished independence.
This last seat of the Sinhalese kings, who ceded power to the Britishin in 1815 after many a battle with the western colonial forces, still retains much of the old charm and tradition of the truly Sri Lankan life style.
Among the most picturesque cities in the island, the importance of Kandy is mainly due to it being the home of the Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth - which houses the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Here visitors can observe the ancient traditions of drumming and sacred chanting in honour of the Tooth Relic, being performed several times each day.
Kandy is also the venue of the Esala Perahera, easily the most colourful pageant of Asia, held in July/August each year, in honour of the tooth Relic. As the pagentry of the Esala Perahera unfolds through ten nights each year, the city takes on the air of a torch-lit dreamland, complete with a hundred or more colourfully caparisoned elephants, drummers, dancers, and chieftains in the rare colourful trappings of the old kingdom.
The city is a monastic centre of Buddhism with the two biggest monasteries - the Malwatte and Asgiriya temples located here. Around the city are several other Buddhist temples with special attractions for the visitor looking for the cultural traditions of Sri Lanka. The rock temple at Degaldoruwa, has beautiful Buddhist frescoes of the 17th century, while the Lankatilleke and Gadaladeniya temples are unique examples of the Buddhist construction in brick and stone during the same period. The shrine to a Hindu deity at Embekke is the best extant example of the wood carvings of the Kandyan period. Another temple well known for its frescoes is the one at Ranawana.
The numerous smaller temples that dot the Kandyan landscape are places of unusual calm and peace, where one could still discover the close link between the temple and the village, which was the mainstay of Sinhalese social organization.
The Kandyan areas are where the crafts of the Sinhalese have been kept alive. From the art of mat weaving at Dumbara, to the silver craftsmen of Nattaranpotha, and wood carvers of Embekke, the Kandyan craftsmen produce the exquisite material which makes up the most sought after souvenirs of Sri Lanka.
Your progress through the winding streets of Kandy could often be obstructed by a tame elephant, carrying its load of palm leaves for the daily lunch, or an elephant stopping at the wayside tea kiosk for a lunch of bananas. The Elephant Bath, at the Mahaweli River near Katugastota is where the many domesticated elephants of Kandy come for their daily bath, a must to keep the elephants happy. (One word of caution though, if you wish to have your photograph taken on an elephant's back at this place, make sure to agree on the price first, and better still, have your local guide with you. The elephants are friendly enough, but the mahouts [or elephant handlers] are much more calculating).
After the Temple of the Tooth, the most famous landmark of Kandy is its lake, in the centre of the city. The old building at its edge near the Temple of the Tooth was the Queen's Bath. On the other side of the Temple of the Tooth, housed in part of former royal palace, is the Kandy Museum which houses excellent exhibits from the Kandyan period of Sri Lanka's history.
The Kandy Market is a great bazaar full of the sounds of exciting trade and bargaining. The stalls are full to overflowing with fresh vegetables, spices and fruits.
Nearby Kandy, at Peradeniya is the Royal Botanical Gardens, part of which was the pleasure garden of the last Queen of Kandy. Later, the Botanic Garden was the operational headquarters of Lord Mountbatten, who was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces of the South East Asia Command, during the Second world War.
The Peradeniya Gardesn is easily one of the best ofits kind in the world. The many beautiful avenues will lead one to sections which provide a burst of tropical colour. The great lawns highligth huge tropical trees, while you will be surprised at the variety of bamboo that can be found in one place.
The best known attraction of the Gardens is the Orchid House, which house more than 300 varieties of exquisite orchids from the rare indigenous Foxtail and Vesak orchids, to many natural and hybrid species which have made this one of the best known orchid centres of the world.
A spice garden gives you a first hand introduction to the trees, plants and creepers that produce the special spices of Sri Lanka. The Herbarium grows many of the plants used for the traditional Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia.
Kandy has good accommodation in several hotels and guest houses located in and around the city. There is traditional entertainment in the way of performances of Kandyan Dancing, and traditional drumming. Plenty of gem shops offer good quality gems, while the silver craftmanship is of the highest quality. Your travel agent or hotel could arrange special performances of Kandyan Dancing, as well as, take you to places where you can see the Kandyan craftsmen demonstrate their traditional skills.
KANDY Esala Perhera or the Pageant of Kandy....
Kandy, a historic city, 126 km east of Colombo is the centre of culture and art and was the last kingdom of Sri Lanka, which fell under British rule in 1815.
Traditions have been maintained and still the colourful, and spectacular pageant of great importance to Buddhists and others alike, the Kandy Esala Perahera is held on ten successive nights in the month of Esala (July/August) every year.
It is a wonderful spectacle where more than fifty caparisoned elephants and tuskers walk along the streets of Kandy for over two and half hours accompanied by Kandyan dancers, dancing to the rhythmic beatiing of drums by the Kandyan drummers. Torch bearers carrying iron baskets fitted to the end of long poles, filled with burning copra light up the pageant.
The Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic) Perahera (procession) leads the pageant, followed by the perahera of the four develes (shrines) dedicated to the gods Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama and the goddess Pattini.
The streets are packed to capacity with spectators during the ten days of the festival. Foreign tourists do not fail to witness the annual pageant which makes their visit to Sri Lanka a memorable one.
People begin to arrive in Kandy from early dawn to get the best possible positions to see the perahera. Some are seated on the pavement by the Kandy Lake and others line up the perahera route. Seats are provided at certain places for a nominal fee. All hotels in Kandy are filled to capacity during this period while the Kandyan craftsmen too make good business selling their wares.
The leading elephant carries an official who holds the Royal decree permitting to conduct the perahera. This is followed by elephants walking abreast in groups of three. In between are the drummers, the dancers and flag bearers carrying traditional flags. The custodian of the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic, the Diyawadana Nilame dressed in complete traditional costume walks at the end of the Maligawa perahera with a long line up of Kandyan dancers performing in front of him. They follow the tusker carrying the golden casket containing the bodily relics of the Buddha and walking on pavada, a metre wide long white cloth, laid in front of him.
The Maligawa perahera is followed by the peraheras of the four devales with the custodians of the devales walking at the end of each perahera. The perahera of the god of Kataragama is mostly coloured in red with some devotees performing kavadi dances. Some carry pots on their heads while dancing. The last perahera is that of goddess Pattini. Palanquins are carried at the end of the perahera.
On the final day of the perahera, they all go to a place in the river Mahaweli where the 'water-cutting' ceremony takes place. It involves the parting of the river water with a sword and filling brass pots with water from the place where the water has parted after discarding the water collected the previous year. At the end of that ceremony they all return in procession to the Maligawa and the four shrines respectively when people on the wayside feed the elephants with juggery, bananas and milk rice. The Maligawa perahera goes round the temple thrice before finally entering the premises.
The following day the Chief Custodians of the Maligawa and the devales jointly report to the Head of the State about the successful completion of the perahera.
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